Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy | Study Guide

Joseph A. Schumpeter

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Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy | Part 5, Chapter 25 : A Historical Sketch of Socialist Parties (The Situation That Marx Faced) | Summary



Schumpeter repeats a story told by Friedrich Engels that Marx adopted the term communist because socialism had "by that time acquired a flavour of bourgeois respectability." He notes further that Marx was influenced strongly by his experiences in the German Revolution of 1848 and the way that revolution "uprooted" him. This influence led Marx to embrace the proletariat and a "feeling" of internationalism.

Schumpeter assesses the "political data" that confronted Marx. He alleges that the "huge industrial masses" of which Marx wrote existed "nowhere except in England." Labor leadership had taken a conservative turn after the defeat of radical movements like the Chartists in the 1830s. Marx and Engels made little attempt to organize the English working classes themselves. They relied instead on tentative contact with the rising trade union movement. With this contact in place, Marx adopted a position towards bourgeois politics he thought "logically unimpeachable," utterly rejecting participation in it. "Reformism" was to be rejected as an attempt to patch up a system that needed to be overthrown. Specific programs could be supported if they advanced the cause of the proletariat or hastened the inevitable revolution.

Schumpeter finally casts an eye over Marx's contact with the International Workingmen's Association, called the First International. Schumpeter's assessment is that this association led to Marx's setting a "tactical example" in which any course of action could be justified. Schumpeter laments Marx's "wishful thinking" that clouded his vision as he earnestly hoped for the revolution that surely lay just around the corner.


Schumpeter's return to Marx continues the project of putting Marx into his own historical context. Here Marx the activist is assessed, with no less mixed an assessment than Marx the theorist in Part I. This is important because Marx's work as an activist was as influential on the development of socialist parties as anything he wrote. Schumpeter makes a keen point of this insight even as he has another dig at Marx for "wishful thinking" and "shuffling."

Again, Schumpeter shows the breadth of his learning, which takes in far more political history than might be expected of a trained economist. Many academic disciplines had more porous boundaries and more cross-pollination in the past than when the disciplines were solidified in the academy after World War II.

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